Chef


Just don't call it a roach coach.

Just don’t call it a roach coach.

(2013) Dramedy (Open Road) Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Peters, Gloria Sandoval, Jose C. Hernandez ‘Perico’, Nili Fuller, Aaron Franklin, Roy Choi, Gary Clark Jr., Benjamin Jacob, Rachel Acuna. Directed by Jon Favreau

This might well be called the age of the Chef. We are more aware of those who cook are food than ever; some develop into a kind of rock star status with television shows, restaurant chains, food products and frequent appearances on talk shows. Getting to that point though takes a lot of hard work.

Carl Casper (Favreau) had reason to believe he was on that fast track to the big time. He came out of Miami as one of the most acclaimed up-and-coming chefs in the business, but it is certainly a business of “what have you cooked for me lately?” as that was a decade or more ago. Now, he toils as the head chef in a popular Beverly Hills eatery run by the control freak Riva (Hoffman). He’s lost his edge and his passion, cooking Riva’s menu even when one of the more influential bloggers and food critics Ramsey Michel (Platt) comes to review the restaurant.

That review goes very badly for Carl as Michel trashes the food but also Carl himself, blasting him for complacency and assuming the reason he’s put on so much weight is that “he’s eating all the food returned to the kitchen.” Carl takes it very personally, leading to a heated exchange with the critic which is caught on enough cell phones to go viral. Carl finds himself without a job and too much of an Internet punch line to get a new one.

On the personal front, Carl has an amiable relationship with his ex-wife Inez (Vergara) but his 10-year-old son Percy (Anthony) wants more of a relationship than his dad is able to supply right now. Percy lives in a perpetual state of disappointment when it comes to his father. Inez thinks that Carl needs to go back to his roots in Miami and get himself a food truck. Her other ex-husband Melvin (Downey) has one that’s pretty dilapidated but has some potential.

Right at his side is his former line cook Martin (Leguizamo) who is far more loyal than Carl maybe deserves, but between the two of them they come up with the best Cuban sandwich you may ever eat. They are going to drive the truck to L.A. from Miami with stops in New Orleans and Austin; of course, Percy will come along for the ride. This is a road trip that Carl needs to discover his passion not just for food but for life.

Favreau started out as a director doing Swingers which 20 years ago redefined the whole indie film genre and while Favreau has gone on to big franchise films for the most part, his heart has always been with these sorts of movies. The trouble with being an in-demand franchise film director is that there isn’t time for him to do small movies like this one. However, after excusing himself from the Iron Man franchise he went in this direction first and to his credit it’s a wise move.

Not that the Iron Man films are without heart but they are so much less intimate than a movie like this. Chef is often described as a foodie film (and I’m as guilty of it as anyone) but it really isn’t about food so much as it is about being an artist; Carl’s medium happens to be food. Inspiration is important to any artist; ask any artist who is working for somebody else how easy it is to have their own inspiration and style curtailed by someone who doesn’t understand art, doesn’t understand the artist.

One of the problems with art is that from time to time an artist will take themselves too seriously but this isn’t about the arrogance of the artist (although Carl certainly has some of that – art requires an absolute belief in your own talent) but about the artist who has lost their way and must find it again. First though he must find his own heart.

Kids can often be cloying in roles like this one but Anthony manages to avoid that. Sometimes he comes on a bit strong with the disappointed face, but other than that he has a very natural relationship with Favreau. The two seem genuinely fond of one another and that translates well to the screen.

Favreau, who often plays smartass sorts (maybe hanging around so much with Vince Vaughn early on in his career contributed to that) but while his character can be a bit of a dick sometimes, this is a much more mature character than we’re used to seeing from him although on paper, he is pretty childish in places. By mature, I mean a character that has a lot more depth to them than just one-line zingers. This is one of Favreau’s strongest performances to date both in front of and behind the camera.

And yes, you will leave the theater hungry, longing for a good Cuban sandwich or some fine beef brisket (Aaron Franklin, whose Franklin Barbecue in Austin is considered to be the best in the country by many experts, makes a cameo appearance showing off his brisket). That’s all right. For my own purpose I left the theater not just hungry for good food but for more films like this from Favreau.

REASONS TO GO: Warm without being overly sentimental. Will make you hungry. Realistic relationships.

REASONS TO STAY: Will likely end up somewhat dated.

FAMILY VALUES: A decent amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Favreau was trained in knife-work and cooking techniques by Roy Choi, a well known fusion chef and food truck owner in the LA area who was also credited as a producer on the film (and makes a cameo appearance as himself).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/27/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: No Reservations 

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Immigrant

New Releases for the Week of May 23, 2014


X-Men: Days of Future PastX-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

(20th Century Fox) Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult. Directed by Bryan Singer

The original X-Men, living in a future devastated by mutant-hunting Sentinels who have begun hunting all life down, must send Wolverine back into the past to fight alongside their younger selves and convince a young and bitter Professor X to bring the X-Men together. He, however, is not so willing no matter what the cost. Singer returns to the franchise he originated.

See the trailer, promos, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language)

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

(Lionsgate) Robin Williams, Mila Kunis, James Earl Jones, Melissa Leo. A Brooklyn man, notorious for his ill temperament, goes to see a doctor about a raging headache. When she tells him that he has a brain aneurysm, he demands to know how long he has. He finally bullies her into telling him – 90 minutes. He sets out to make amends with those he has wronged in his life in the short time he has left. She, filled with remorse, sets out to find him and bring him to the hospital before the angriest man in Brooklyn becomes the angriest corpse in Brooklyn.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexual content)

Belle

(Fox Searchlight) Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson. Dido Elizabeth Belle was the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a British Royal Navy Admiral in the 19th century. Raised by her aristocratic great-Uncle, she exists in a strange half-life of the privileged class but due to the color of her skin unable to participate fully or take advantage completely of her circumstances. Her passion, dignity and spirit inspire her great-Uncle to be one of the catalyzing forces in ending slavery in England.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some language and brief smoking images)

Blended

(Warner Brothers) Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Nealon, Joel McHale. Two single parents are set up on a blind date by his boss and her roommate who are dating. Date ends in disaster. Boss and roommate break up. African safari that they were going to go on is up for grabs. Single parents grab the spots. Single parents take their kids. Single parents hate each other. Laughs (hopefully) ensue.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and suggestive content, and language)

Chef

(Open Road) Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Dustin Hoffman. Frustrated at having his culinary inspiration curtailed by a control freak owner, a classically-trained chef quits the fine dining establishment in a move viewed by some of his friends as career suicide. Without prospects, he sinks everything he has into buying a food truck. Taking along his ex-wife and best friend for the ride, he takes to this new trend in great food and re-discovers his passion not just for cooking but for life.

See the trailer, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language, including some suggestive references)

The Double

(Magnolia) Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor. A drone in a retro-futuristic industrial setting, Simon James is a mousy sort who pines away for a co-worker but does nothing to pursue her. A hard worker, his accomplishments are overlooked and indeed few even know his name. Then one day, the company hires a new worker – James Simon, who looks exactly like Simon. To his horror, the outgoing and charismatic James begins to take over Simon’s life; even the girl of his dreams falls for the man who looks exactly like him. One of my films from this year’s Florida Film Festival, look for my review this Sunday.

See the trailer, a clip and find a link to rent the full movie for streaming here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama/Black Comedy/Fantasy

Rating: R (for language)

Fed Up

(Radius) Michele Simon. Rocco diSpirito, Senator Cory Booker, Jamie Oliver. The epidemic of childhood obesity and adult-onset diabetes has led nutritionists and medical professionals to rethink our concepts of diet and exercise. The food industry with its emphasis on prepared foods, salt, sugar and fats make it nearly impossible for us to eat responsibly. This documentary will open your eyes as to the way you eat and the things you take for granted.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website .

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including smoking images, and brief mild language)

The Immigrant

(Weinstein) Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Angela Sarafyan. At the turn of the 20th century a Polish woman is emigrating to the United States with her sister. When they are separated, she falls prey to a charming but wicked man who forces her into prostitution. Her only salvation may come at the hands of an enigmatic stage magician – who happens to be her tormentor’s cousin.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Mystery

Rating: R (for sexual content, some nudity and language)

The Love Punch

(Ketchup) Pierce Brosnan, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie. Richard and Kate are happily divorced and looking to go into their sunset years blessedly apart from each other. When an unscrupulous businessman screws them out of their pension, the two are forced to team up and get back what they worked their whole lives for.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Caper Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content, language and rude humor)

Manam

(CineGalaxy)  Akkineni Nageshwara Rao, Nagajurna Akkineni, Naga Chaitanya, Samantha Ruth Prabhu.Two souls encounter each other again and again during a hundred year period. Inspired (very) loosely by Back to the Future. This would be Rao’s final film; the veteran Bollywood star passed away shortly after filming wrapped.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

New Releases for the Week of January 17, 2014


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, David Paymer, Colm Feore, Peter Andersson, Nonso Anozie, Gemma Chan. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

A young CIA analyst uncovers a terrorist plot on US soil to throw the American financial market into chaos. His mentor lures him deeper into the shadow world of international espionage, putting a strain on his marriage as he faces off with a Russian master spy.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Spy Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and intense action, and for brief strong language)

Back in the Day

(Screen Media) Morena Baccarin, Michael Rosenbaum, Nick Swardson, Harland Williams. Making a surprise visit to his high school reunion, a still-single ladies man from back in the day manages to convince his now-married friends to go out on one final fling, leading to some issues with their wives and friends.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content and some graphic nudity)

Devil’s Due

(20th Century Fox) Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Catherine Kresge. A newlywed couple discovers that they are pregnant a bit earlier than anticipated. Still, it is welcome news but as time passes and the due date becomes closer, the wife’s personality begins to change and strange unexplainable things begin to occur around them. Soon the husband must face the unthinkable if he is to save his wife – and himself.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for language and some bloody images)

Life of a King

(Millennium) Cuba Gooding Jr., LisaGay Hamilton, Dennis Haysbert, Rachel Thomas. While doing an 18-year prison stint for bank robbery, a young con learns the game of chess. Hoping to help his neighborhood turn things around and to prevent others from going down the same tragic path he did, he founds a chess club which despite the skepticism of others both inside the neighborhood and out, does exactly what he hopes it will do.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some drug content and brief violent images – all involving teens)

The Nut Job

(Open Road) Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl . After accidentally destroying the park’s winter stores, a brash and independent squirrel discovers squirrel nirvana – a nearby nut store. But to get at the goodies he’s going to have to make a brilliant plan and that’s not something he or his friends are particularly good at.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Ride Along

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, John Leguizamo, Tika Sumpter. Ben, a security officer at an Atlanta high school, longs for two things in life; to become a police officer and to marry his girl. When he is accepted to the police academy, he’s well on his way to achieving the first but the second is a little more problematic. Standing in the way is his girlfriend’s cop brother who doesn’t like Ben at all. Ben must prove himself worthy and what better way to do that than to take him on a ride-along into the worst part of the city?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence, sexual content and brief strong language)  

New Releases for the Week of December 20, 2013


Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES

(Paramount) Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Kristen Wiig, Harrison Ford, James Marsden, Greg Kinnear, Meagan Good. Directed by Adam McKay

It is the 1980s and legendary San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy and his news team have settled into gentle obscurity. A revolution in news is brewing however and the advent of 24-hour cable news networks beckon with a siren’s call to Burgundy and his team. Can they return from the shadows into the lights they were meant to shine in, or will those forces aligned against Ron and his team triumph and in so doing plunge the world into a nightmare of despair? Well, no…

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence)

American Hustle

(Columbia) Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence. In the heyday of the ABSCAM scandal of the 70s, an out-of-control FBI agent recruits a con man and his British accomplice to take down a New Jersey power broker. The whole scheme however is threatened by the con man’s unpredictable and vindictive estranged wife.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence)

Dhoom 3

(Yash Raj) Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Tabrett Bethell, Kim DeJesus. A young man joins a circus along with a comely gymnast but his motives are different; he intends to rob the owners whom he holds responsible for the murder of his father.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR 

Saving Mr. Banks

(Disney) Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti. Walt Disney wants to make a movie based on the beloved children’s book Mary Poppins. The trouble is, the book’s prickly author P.L. Travers has no desire to see her work bastardized by Hollywood. Disney, who promised his children he’d make this movie, must find a way to convince her that not only her words will be respected, so too will the spirit of the book.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including some unsettling images) 

Walking with Dinosaurs

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Justin Long, John Leguizamo, Karl Urban, Charlie Rowe. A tribe of dinosaurs battles for survival in a changing prehistoric world.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG (for creature action and peril, and mild rude humor) 

The Counselor


Michael Fassbender doesn't know what to say when Javier Bardem insists on toasting their barbers.

Michael Fassbender doesn’t know what to say when Javier Bardem insists on toasting their barbers.

(2013) Thriller (20th Century Fox) Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez, Ruben Blades, Bruno Ganz, Toby Kebbell, Emma Rigby, Edgar Ramirez, Dean Norris, Natalie Dormer, Goran Visnjic, John Leguizamo, Fernando Cayo, Paris Jefferson, Andrea Deck, Giannina Facio. Directed by Ridley Scott

When we choose to abandon the straight and narrow, we do so most often because of greed. We want more than we would otherwise be entitled to by the dint of our hard work and effort, so we take the shortcut. Sometimes we escape with a tidy sum to put by for a rainy day but more often than not, we reap the consequences of what we have sewn.

The counselor (Fassbender) – he is never given a name in the film – is a sharp lawyer who must have been absent the day they were handing out a conscience. He’s all about the Benjamins, although he is madly in love with Laura (Cruz) whom he has proposed to. While his practice is making him a decent amount of money, he is raking in the cash like he’s printing it thanks to his relationship with Reiner (Bardem) who is part of the Mexican cartel, and middleman Westray (Pitt) who brokers the deals.

Reiner is arranging for the shipment of some drugs from Mexico to Chicago in a septic truck. Being the paranoid sorts that they are, the truck is only going to go as far as Arizona before finishing it’s journey. The Mexican nationals driving the truck get it to its destination, then a courier is supposed to take a kill switch needed to start the truck to the next driver who will finish the job.

Unfortunately, the courier is ambushed and killed on his way to the next driver and that courier happened to be the son of Ruth (Perez), a high-up member of a cartel family that the counselor is defending on a murder charge. To make matters worse, the counselor had sprung the courier from jail after a reckless driving and speeding arrest, which led the cartel to believe that the counselor had something to do with it.

Reiner, Westray and the lawyer are all at risk as are their immediate loved ones which in Reiner’s case is the ice-cold financier Malkina (Diaz) and in Westray’s case is nobody. Malkina, who has a soft spot for watching jaguars take down jackrabbits in the desert and knows more about what’s going on than Reiner or the counselor suspect, promises Reiner that she is going to leave at the first sign of trouble but in point of fact she’s long gone well before that.

As you would expect from a screenplay written by Cormac McCarthy, the plot is very complex and requires a good deal of attention on the audience’s part, particularly during the first few scenes of the movie where those paying close attention can pretty much garner everything they need to figure things out.

The cast is impressive as you might expect with all the A-list power behind the camera. Fassbender is a busy man these days but makes time for a role which is as much of a cipher as any he has played to date. Not only is his character given no name, he isn’t given much of a soul either. That seems to reside all in Cruz who is unaware of the depths of the double dealing her groom-to-be is sinking to.

Bardem, as always, is interesting whether he is shamelessly hamming it up (as he is here) or underplaying discretely (as he does in Skyfall). As you can see in the photo above, there is nothing subtle about Reiner and for that kind of role, Bardem is a good first choice (or fallback as the case may be). Pitt is serviceable as the wise and worldly Westray who understands exactly what sort of people they are up against.

I’ve never been particularly a Cameron Diaz fan but this might be my favorite performance of hers to date. Malkina is a manipulative predator, weaving a web of lust and betrayal and then striking as true and as deadly as a cobra. It is one of the best female villain roles since Cruella de Ville – while Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster did show someone who was evil, you can’t really call truly call the role that of a villain.

The movie is pretty convoluted in places and there are a lot of characters who show up, say a few lines and then disappear for good. Perhaps the audience might have appreciated combining some of these roles or at least having other characters mouth the platitudes. The bean-counters would have appreciated it as well.

McCarthy is never a particularly easy read and this screenplay, an original story by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, isn’t always easy to watch. The sex is in your face (quite literally at times) and those who are uncomfortable with sexuality will certainly be disturbed by what they see here. There are some pretty violent moments as well with at least one beheading and a lot of bodies being shot to pieces. Those sensitive to those sorts of things should take note too.

Still, this is a solid thriller that is a little smarter than most and a bit better-written as well. It is a grim movie that just gets bleaker as the film goes on and as the Counselor and his allies realize that they are trapped in a situation that there is no escaping, try as they might. This may not end up in anyone’s top 5 Ridley Scott movie lists but it should certainly make his top ten.

REASONS TO GO: Generally smart and well-written. Fassbender, Bardem and Pitt are terrific and Diaz makes a surprisingly vicious femme fatale.

REASONS TO STAY: Convoluted and hard to follow in places. Unrelentingly grim.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some fairly graphic violence and language, along with a few morbid images and a fairly extensive and graphic amount of sex and conversations about the same.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Production shut down for a week in August 2012 after the suicide of director Ridley Scott’s brother Tony, who was also a co-founder of their production company Scott Free. The movie is dedicated to him.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 37% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scarface (1983)

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Winged Migration

Kick-Ass 2


Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are nonplussed to discover that they're not getting action figures made after all.

Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are nonplussed to discover that they’re not getting action figures made after all.

(2013) Superhero (Universal) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Clark Gregg, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Donald Faison, Claudia Lee, Amy Anzel, Augustus Prew, Olga Kurkulina, Steven Mackintosh, Monica Dolan, Garrett M. Brown, Lindy Booth, Robert Emms, Chuck Liddell, Yancy Butler, Lyndsy Fonseca, Sophie Wu. Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Although I have it labeled as a superhero movie (and indeed that is how this movie is essentially classified nearly everywhere), it’s not quite accurate. You won’t find a single superhero in this movie. What you will find is a movie about people who love and regard superheroes as idols to emulate.

Taking place a couple of years after the original Kick-Ass, the sequel finds Mindy Macready a.k.a. Hit Girl (Moretz) is cutting classes to go work out with Dave Lizewski a.k.a. Kick-Ass (Taylor-Johnson) who after an entire movie of getting beaten to a bloody pulp by bad guys wants to better be able not only to defend himself but to inflict some damage as well.

Seething in the background is Chris D’Amico, formerly the Red Mist (Mintz-Plasse) whose father was blowed up real good by Kick-Ass at the end of the first movie. He wants his revenge although his mother (Butler) doesn’t take him all that seriously. His bodyguard Javier (Leguizamo) does and when Chris – after an untimely accident – decides to become the first supervillain, Javier is not thrilled with the idea but supports him nonetheless.

When Mindy’s guardian Marcus (Chestnut), a cop, discovers what she’s been up to, he makes her promise to stop being Hit Girl. She starts hanging out with Brooke (Lee) and the other popular girls, trying on a normal life on for size. She finds out quickly that it doesn’t quite fit.

In the meantime Dave has found a new superhero team led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey), a born again ex mobster. The roster includes Insect Man (Emms), Dr. Gravity (Faison), Night Bitch (Booth) with whom Kick-Ass strikes up a – ahem – physical relationship, and Battle Guy (Gregg) who turns out to be Dave’s friend Marty. Eventually they bring in the other member of Dave’s high school circle, (Prew) so that he doesn’t feel left out but he seems unable to be anything but derivative of Kick-Ass’ name and costume.

For his part D’Amico, going by the name of the Motherf*cker, has assembled a team of villains of his own including Mother Russia (Kurkulina), an ex-KGB agent who is a walking, talking advertisement for steroid abuse. He means to take things up a notch and bodies are going to hit the floor. With Hit Girl on the sidelines and only amateur heroes to stand at his side, can Kick-Ass survive the assault?

First off, the level of violence in this movie is fairly extreme and occasionally graphic, particularly in the third reel. People get hurt, people get maimed and people get killed. The kind of game that Kick-Ass was playing in the first movie is over; the stakes are way higher. There are consequences to putting on the costumes and they are illustrated here.

The movie has gotten a bad rap for that violence and I can only say this; if you’re squeamish about such things, this really isn’t a movie you should be seeing. However, I do believe the violence in the film isn’t as gratuitous as critics – including star Jim Carrey who has famously disowned the film – would lead you to believe. The violence here has a purpose and while you may agree or disagree with that purpose, it nonetheless does have a reason for being.

While Taylor-Johnson has yet to impress me in either Kick-Ass movie, Moretz is amazing here. She is a terrific young actress who captures all of Mindy’s adolescent self-doubts and yearning for acceptance and love. She is a lonely little girl who misses her daddy and that aspect is played up well by Moretz.

Leguizamo does a good job too as the bodyguard/mobster with a heart of gold. I also quite liked Mintz-Plasse who really captures the evil of  Chris D’Amico, driven to the dark side with mad thoughts of revenge. Chris might be a bit of a joke but that doesn’t make him any less evil.

I will say that I found this entertaining enough, but not enough to stand out which isn’t a good thing in one of the most mediocre summer blockbuster seasons in recent memory. Like most of the other movies I’ve seen this summer, Kick-Ass 2 isn’t bad – it just isn’t any more than that.

REASONS TO GO: Entertaining and funny. Moretz is fabulous and so is Leguizamo.

REASONS TO STAY: Unrelentingly brutal, particularly in the final reel.

FAMILY VALUES:  A buttload of violence and a shitload of profanity. There’s also some sexual content and a bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Carrey bought his own props and costume in an effort to look more like the comic book version of his character – which, in the comic book, was actually two characters: brothers Colonel Stars and Lieutenant Stripes.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 28% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The World’s End

New Releases for the Week of August 16, 2013


Kick-Ass 2

KICK-ASS 2

(Universal) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Donald Faison, Jim Carrey. Directed by Jeff Wadlow

The exploits of Kick-Ass and Hit Girl have inspired a new generation of costumed vigilante heroes of varying competence to patrol the streets of the city. This proves intolerable for Red Mist, the turncoat hero whose father was killed by Kick-Ass; reborn in a new guise, he assembles his own team of costumed villains who hunt down the heroes one by one. Only the bravery of Kick-Ass and the blades of Hit Girl can stop the carnage.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Superhero

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity)

The Butler

(Weinstein) Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams. The true story of an African-American White House employee – a butler if you will – who served for more than three decades and for seven presidents. These decades represent some of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history when civil rights were topic A and relations between races in this country changed forever. These changes not only affected our country but caused a deep divide in the butler’s family as well.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and disturbing image, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking)

Ghost Graduation

(Fox Searchlight) Raul Arevalo, Alexandra Jimenez, Andrea Duro, Jaime Olias. A high school teacher has Haley Joel Osment syndrome – he can see dead people. In his case, a group of teenagers at his high school who died in a 1986 fire. They are doomed to remain there unless they can pass their final course. The teacher of course volunteers – nobody ever said your students had to be among the living and quite frankly most of them aren’t anyway, right? Complications ensue when one of the dead and one of the living fall in love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Adventure

Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity and language)

Jobs

(Open Road) Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas. Steve Jobs was a revolutionary and his ideas changed the way we live. Under his guidance, Apple and Pixar revolutionized entertainment and technology and produced such devices as the personal computer, the iPhone, the digitally animated feature, the iPod and the iPad among other things. This is his story.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some drug content and brief strong language)

Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara

(Ramesh Sippy) Akshay Kumar, Imran Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Sonali Bendre . A sequel to the popular Bollywood film Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, the action begins as a new criminal don runs the city of Mumbai. He has become a popular folk hero for his suave charismatic manner and womanizing. His best friend oversees the criminal side of his empire. However a rift grows between them when they both fall in love with the same starlet.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Paranoia

(Relativity) Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Amber Heard. An ambitious young engineer gets caught in a war between two rival CEOs who will stop at nothing to destroy each other. Forced into the world of corporate espionage, he soon discovers that not only everything that he’s worked for is at risk, so is his very life. In too deep to stop, he must figure out a way to survive and protect those he loves.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality, violence and language)  

Vanishing on 7th Street


Hayden Christensen isn't apologizing for his Star Wars performances anytime soon.

Hayden Christensen isn’t apologizing for his Star Wars performances anytime soon.

(2010) Horror (Magnet) Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jacob Latimore, Taylor Groothuis, Jordan Trovillion, Neal Huff, Larry Fessenden, Arthur Cartwright, Hugh Maguire, Erin Nicole Brolley, Stephen Clark, Caroline Clifford-Taylor, Shana Schultz. Directed by Brad Anderson

It is engrained in our nature to be afraid of the dark. That is a legacy from our caveman ancestors, who were terrified by things in the night that were likely to eat them as not. But we live in civilized times. There’s nothing malevolent in the dark is there?

Paul (Leguizamo) is a projectionist in a Detroit movie theater. Like many in that particular profession, he can get quite bored on the job, so he brings with him a book to read and a hat with a lantern on it to read by. When there’s a brief power outage, he is for a moment the only one with light. When the lights come back on, he is shocked to discover that every person in the theater has vanished, leaving behind their clothes, shoes and jewelry. They’re just…gone

He meets a security guard (Cartwright) who had a flashlight on when the lights went out. As they investigate, the lights go out again. Then the guard’s flashlight fails and a shocked Paul watches him disappear before his eyes. Then Paul’s light goes out…

Luke (Christensen) wakes up to find the city deserted. A tough TV news reporter, he heads to the station to see if he can piece together what’s going on. He thinks that there is something in the shadows and that the key to survival is light. Before he is forced to flee the station in the receding light, he sees a video from Chicago that indicates that the Windy City may well be safe.

Luke makes his way to a bar which is one of the few places with light left in Detroit. A portable generator is running them and a suspicious 13-year-old boy named James (Latimore) is the only one there. His mother, the bartender, had stepped out but should be back any moment, a scenario Luke finds highly unlikely.

In short order, they are joined by Rosemary (Newton), a junkie whose baby disappeared, and eventually by Paul who reappeared at a lighted bus stop when his lantern hat re-activated. He is grievously injured however and Luke is obliged to rescue him by the skin of his teeth.

It turns out that there is a malevolence in the shadow that is capable of fooling those who remain alive to step into the dark. With a supernatural darkness enveloping Detroit, Luke knows it’s a matter of time before the generator fails and the only choice they have left is to make a run for it to Chicago, but that’s a dangerous proposition. And as Paul has discovered, what has the events in modern day Detroit have to do with the lost Roanoke colony of the 17th century?

Director Anderson has some pretty impressive titles to his credit, including Transsiberian and The Machinist. While this isn’t on the level of those films, it is pretty nifty nonetheless. It’s a great premise – aren’t we all scared of the dark? – and doesn’t require a lot of gaudy effects to pull off.

His Achilles heel here was casting. While Leguizamo and particularly Latimore do solid work, Christensen and Newton overact without any conscience whatsoever. While I agree that frightened people can act in a hysterical manner, there just doesn’t seem to be any reality to their portrayals. It pulled me out of the movie several times. By the way, don’t look for any explanations as to what’s going on – you won’t find any. While there are some critics who complained about it, I think it puts the audience in the place of the characters who wouldn’t have known what’s going on either.

This is a bleak movie, which is a trademark of Anderson. Some may find it too bleak, but I kind of liked the tone. While I appreciate needing to put some name actors in the lead roles, Christensen and Newton aren’t the two I would have cast. With a couple of different actors as Luke and Rosemary, this might have been a much better movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Genuinely creepy with good performances from Leguizamo and Latimore.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very bleak in tone. Christensen and Newton were poor choices for the leads.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of swearing and some pretty grim and gruesome imagery.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the film was a theatrical flop, more than one quarter of the box office came from South Korea.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a series of interviews conducted by Fangoria magazine.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1M on a $10M production budget; not the numbers the producers wanted.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Darkness Falls

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Pitch Black

Ice Age: Continental Drift


 

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Scrat is only a little bit obsessed.

(2012) Animated Feature (20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Peter Dinklage, Seann William Scott, Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari, Jennifer Lopez, Drake, Keke Palmer, Heather Morris, Joy Behar, Nicki Minaj, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Nick Frost, JB Smoove, Chris Wedge. Directed by Steve Martino and Michael Thumeier

 

There isn’t much we wouldn’t do for our families. We’d put our lives on the line to defend them. We’d do things that we don’t like doing to make things work. We’d go as far as we had to just to get together with them. Even though we fight like cats and dogs sometimes, when it comes down to it, our families are everything.

Manny the Mastodon (Romano) thinks so too. After everything he’s been through, his wife Ellie (Latifah) is the apple of his eye. His daughter Peaches (Palmer) is now a teenager (we saw her getting born in the last Ice Age movie) and like most teenagers, she’s terribly concerned with hanging out with the right crowd. She has her eye on Ethan (Drake), the dreamboat who has his own little entourage, although her BFF Louis (Gad), a kind of mole, is far nicer and cares about her as a mastodon…er, person.

Scrat (Wedge) the obsessive squirrel has tried to plant his acorn right in the center of things. Unfortunately, his determination has led to the cataclysmic break-up of the super-continent into the seven continents we know today. That action has inadvertently separated Manny from his family although fortunately Diego (Leary) the saber-toothed tiger is with him as is Sid the Sloth (Leguizamo) and his feisty but not altogether there Granny (Sykes).

They are floating about the sea on an ice floe when they run into Captain Gutt (Dinklage), an orangutan pirate who is also the self-styled ruler of the sea. His right hand woman is Shira (Lopez) who may just be a more ruthless cat than Diego, although you know the two are going to fall for each other. You know it.

Meanwhile, back at home the continental upheaval is taking its toll as Ellie is trying to lead the others to safety while Peaches alternately worries for her dad (who she had words with just before things went south) and still trying to fit in with the cool clique, while Louis frets. Will Manny ever see his family again?

The first Ice Age movies were pretty good and I enjoyed the camaraderie between the main trio of Manny, Diego and Sid. With each passing film more characters have been added into the mix and the films have been getting on the bloated side. As with the third film in the series, there seems to be less fun in the mix. You get the sense that this is just a paycheck for everyone involved, from the studio head on down to the animators and the voice talent. Sykes dos make a welcome addition, although her character is an insulting steroetype for the elderly which is disheartening. Still, she has some of the funniest moments in the film.

One thing it does have going for it is the 3D. I think it’s fair to say that the entire film revolves around 3 so that if you see it in 2D, you miss quite a bit. I don’t often recommend the upcharge but it is worth it here. However, don’t expect much logic or sense. As Sid says to Granny, “We fought dinosaurs. It didn’t make sense, but it sure was exciting.” Although I’d have to question the exciting part. Still, this is a feature length cartoon, not a lesson in history, zoology or geology.

As always, my favorite segments are the ones involving Scrat the Squirrel. This time, an awful lot of them already have appeared in the short films that Scrat has starred in which is a further sign that this franchise is running out of gas. I think it’s fair to say that I got a sense that I’ve seen it all before throughout the film, but in the case of Scrat I literally have.

There’s enough here to keep the small kids happy (and there were plenty of them even at the later showing that I attended which in itself is pretty sad – parents who keep their kids up to see a movie past their bedtime should have their heads examined) but the parents who go with them are going to be counting the minutes until the movie is over – and at a running time of well over an hour and a half, that’s a lot of minutes.

REASONS TO GO: The Scrat sequences are always entertaining. Smaller children will love it (although kids 3rd grade and older might turn their noses up at it as being for little kids).

REASONS TO STAY: Really, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is a little bit rude (although not much) – and some of the cartoon violence might upset the very little.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Captain Gutt was supposed to have been voiced by Jeremy Renner, but his busy schedule precluded it so Peter Dinklage was cast instead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The reviews are pretty negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ice Age: The Meltdown

SCRAT LOVERS: While much of the footage with Scrat was shown initially in the short Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up that accompanied Rio, there are plenty of new scenes that highlight the obsessive squirrel.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Oxford Murders

New Releases for the Week of July 13, 2012


July 13, 2012

ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Peter Dinklage, Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Lopez, Aziz Ansari, Drake, Joy Behar, Nicki Minaj, Keke Palmer, JB Smoove, Alan Tudyk. Directed by Steve Martino and Michael Thurmeier

Scrat’s dogged pursuit of that perfect acorn has at last planet-changing consequences as it’s responsible for the break-up of Pangaea, the super-continent. Manny, Diego and Sid are caught in the middle as they’re literally torn away from their families and float away on an ice floe. To get back home to their families they will need to overcome the prehistoric obstacles of a cold cruel world and characters who are determined to prevent them from returning home.

See the trailer, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor and action/peril)

Cocktail

(Eros International) Deepika Padukone, Saif Ali Khan, Randeep Hooda, Diana Penty. Three natives of India, two women and a man, move into an apartment in London. The three become fast friends and party hard on the London nightlife scene but as both of the women begin to fall for the man, it becomes clear that a choice will have to be made.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Safety Not Guaranteed

(FilmDistrict) Audrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin. Three cynical reporters for a Seattle alternative weekly investigate the man who placed an intriguing classified ad for their paper. They discover that he believes he’s invented a means of time travel and intends to go back in time once more. They, of course, don’t believe a word of it but he certainly does and when they discover that it isn’t meant as a scam – that he truly believes someone is going back in time with him, they wonder how far this journey will take him – and them.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)